Shocked Faces: electrical stimulation of facial muscles to produce expressions

Research Description

The researcher is a performance artist who uses electrodes, connected to the face, to electrically stimulate facial muscles in order to create facial expressions; these are sometimes bizarre, and sometimes create emotional simulations. Controlling the facial muscles by a computer instead of the brain, the face can be made to perform in a much more precise and consistent fashion. Sequences of facial patterns can be programmed at will, and this capability is seen by the researcher as a new medium for kinetic art.

Artwork that builds on this technology forms the basis for his research, through which he hopes to develop a greater understanding of the patterns that are manifested on the face. Research outcomes will include a taxonomy of movement patterns / facial expressions. All possible facial patterns will be explored, and the most effective sequences will be identified. From these, the researcher will ultimately develop a facial choreography that will inform future art pieces.

There will be two to four participants. These will be recruited from volunteers – people who have previously signified their interest in taking part in the project. Criteria for selection are primarily related to facial physical characteristics: the face must be flexible, with clearly visible expressions. Thus, for example, faces that have a lot of fat would not be suitable, while faces with flexible skin would be more responsive to the wrinkling effects of the procedure, resulting in facial expressions that are more clearly visible.

Electrodes will be attached to participants’ faces, and stimulation patterns of the nerves and muscles beneath the skin will cause involuntary contractions of the muscles. This process will generate various facial expressions which will be video recorded. There is a relationship between facial expression and its corresponding emotion. However, this research is not concerned with that relationship, and any relation to emotion will not be explored. The primary concern is the patterns created by muscle contractions. Video and photographic images of participants will form part of the outcomes of the research, and will also contribute to subsequent art practice.

Extract from a video work entitled The varieties of Human Facial Expression showing the researcher

Extract from a video work entitled The varieties of Human Facial Expression showing the researcher

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